It’s always exciting seeing a game grow from its relative infancy to the moment it goes gold. As I reflect on Power Chord, I’m reminded of my first experience with this title at PAX East 2022. The Big Blue Bubble team showed off the title and from the little interaction, I had with the game, I was hooked. Power Chord is a deck-building roguelike RPG that mixes 90s comic-style cel shading, thrashing metal music, and a unique class-based gameplay mechanic. Shortly after that, a public playable demo was available and allowed for a more hands-on experience.
The demo allowed the player to experience the first map of Power Chord, with a preset team and an option to choose between two singers. While talking to the devs, they mentioned how each band role is set to a “designated role,” yet they can branch out to other roles if need be. A “singer” doesn’t automatically mean “healer,” but as a way for them to defend others while also putting on the offense. This makes each role–the drummer, bassist, guitarist, and singer, a piece of a larger unit that revolves around several win conditions.
Even though the demo was small, there were a lot of potential combinations to ensure each role can have a standout performance against the rival demon bands. I recall in the demo that my bassist was overwhelming various enemies with poison and corrosion stacks. In another quick playthrough, my fortune-telling singer controlled the strings of battle in many ways through debuffs and buffs.
Months later, Power Chord is finally released on Steam and I quickly learned how valuable having previous experience in the game’s earlier builds had helped. Players who have tried out the demo builds can easily pick up and play the full version right where they left off. There are various touch-ups and quality-of-life inclusions, featuring a “high-speed mode” that makes the game’s progression quicker than at normal speed. Another addition is the inclusion of challenges in-game.
Fulfilling certain requirements will unlock certain cards to be used in current and future playthroughs. Completing character-specific challenges will also unlock cards for them to use in the deck. Some of the challenges are self-explanatory, including “collecting a certain number of coins,” “killing any number of enemies,” and other tasks you’ll naturally complete during the game. Most of my thoughts going into the final build are similar to my first impressions, but I will say that the level of creativity Power Chord gives the player is incredible.
An example of this is a run I’m currently achieving, consisting of Bor Ironcast, Shinobi 13, Grimnir Brawlfist, and Stitch. With every battle and card reward, my deck quickly shifted focus to Grimnir, my angry guitarist with more rage than he knew what to do with it. Literally. The gear that Grimnir had, Bloody Fangs, gave +3 attack yet dealt one damage to him for each hit. His default gear gave him +1 in rage damage for every damage he took. This meant that Grimnir was instantly going to go at least +4 each turn until Grimnir was able to spend his rage damage on an explosive attack.
Having found my win condition, my plan was to keep Grimnir alive yet I didn’t have the best support cards to do so at the moment. Thankfully, Bor Ironcast had reliable barriers and armor, which would soak up Grimnir’s self-harm. Shinobi was there to provide backup in the form of debuffs and Stitch’s healing passive would help keep Grimnir’s health topped. I underestimated just how much damage he would do until I destroyed the first boss in less than 10 turns.
The team comp wasn’t foolproof however–Grimnir was a glass cannon and if everyone else died on the team that’d be a lot less support to work with. I had confidence in clearing battles even when new mechanics were introduced. New “enemies” included a gate that protects enemy attacks until it’s destroyed and an explosive barrel that detonates the enemy when destroyed. New enemy archetypes were also featured, offering another layer of annoyance.
At least it would be an annoyance if Grimnir didn’t continue to clean house. It was also when I realized that choosing the proper path helped a lot. It comes down to whether or not the player wishes to fight challenging “Elite” fights first or stock up on items before dealing with the onslaught. I decided to go for a middle ground and almost lost my playthrough in a single turn. The enemy I was fighting was getting stronger the more I attacked and he kept dishing it back. Fortunately, I was able to deal enough damage before things spiraled out of control. Unfortunately, I lost one of my bandmates with the rest in critical condition.
The health centers in Power Chord give players one of three choices—Restore a bandmate to full health, restore the band’s health by up to 30%, and revive a dead bandmate. Since having a death in the band made everything handicapped, I had to ensure no one else took critical damage. This led to the second boss in the game, with everyone more or less crippled. This boss fight was between a demon lady and her large monster pet. If either one dies, a negative effect will happen. In the case of the master, if her pet dies she gets a debuff cleanse. If the master dies, the pet will go into a fit of rage.
I decided to get rid of the demon lady as I had enough damage to do so, effectively turning the fight into survival mode. My main attacker perished and with my main offense gone, the rest of the team also fell. All except Bor and even then I was skeptical. The beast had a lot of armor, near full health, and my health was in the single digits. I did have a lot of armor and barrier cards to burn through my deck as an act of desperation, yet as the turns went on I realized I had a second win condition—Survive. Harder.
One of Bor’s gears was the Vengeance Vest that gives +1 in a Power Charge when hit. Since the beast is dealing damage to me each turn, I’m getting +1 for attacks that dealt higher than normal damage. Eventually, I was gaining enough armor and barriers to sit in a comfortable position, and eventually, the beast was felled alongside her master. I was determined to start over again but I was persistent enough to last until the end. I couldn’t celebrate as there were still areas to conquer in Power Chord but now I learned to never give up.
Since playing the first public build of Power Chord, I have grown a fondness for deck-building roguelikes. These games are the most contradictory I’ve ever played as on one end the game promotes strategy in a way that even the biggest roguelike hater can catch on to. On the other hand, there’s getting to know your kit to the point where you understand what works with your deck and what doesn’t fall into the grand scheme of things. The player doesn’t require as much reactionary flexibility but rather a mental gameplay before each battle.
I was very excited to see the final game for myself as this was the game that got me interested in such a vast sub-genre of roguelikes. The in-your-face aesthetic was what drew me in, as an avid fan of cel-shading and cartoon-like themes. However, what kept me playing Power Chord as well as remaining invested in the project for so long was how simple yet dynamic the gameplay was. What I’m getting at here is—more players need to play deck-building roguelikes and more developers need to invest in it. Congrats to Big Blue Bubble for a successful release!
Power Chord shreds on January 26th, 2022 on Steam. This review was made possible by the developers at Big Blue Bubble.